Precocious Prospects

Irish head coach Brian Kelly discussed the early impact of his 2011 recruiting class at today's weekly press conference.

Barring a string of unfortunate injuries, more than half of the 2011 freshmen class should receive the benefit of a redshirt-season. Still, the group's impact was evident in number (14 made the trip to Michigan in Week Two) and in its on-field impact vs. Michigan State last Saturday.

Chief among those contributions and one of the three best players on the field vs. the Spartans was January enrollee Aaron Lynch – his six quarterback hurries more than half (10) the team's decisive total.

"He's an extremely, genetically gifted young man," Kelly offered of Lynch, barely able to repress a knowing smile in the process. "And he has a desire to want to get to the quarterback. He's relentless when it comes to rushing the quarterback; some guys just have that relentless spirit and he brings both of those (traits)."

Kelly, usually measured in his in-season praise for freshman, continued to laud Lynch's remarkable potential.

"We had 11 scouts in (previously) and they said that he physically looks like an NFL player right now. He has a lot of work to do as it relates to all the little things that come with being a great player. He's certainly not there as an everyday player yet. He can't play every down yet. But he's getting there."

Asked if Lynch possessed a particular technical skill set that set him apart from other young players, Kelly reiterated, "I really think it's just that he's relentless. He has a great hand strike; he can really beat you with speed off the edge or he can bull-rush you. So if you set as a tackle he can walk you back as well as he can beat you off the edge."

While Lynch is the foremost freshman performer to date, many of his cohorts have begun carve a significant niche on the '11 squad as well.

Fellow early enrollee Kyle Brindza won the kick-off specialist role – he's booted three touchbacks over the last five quarters. Brindza added a possible touchdown-saving stop in the first half against the Spartans. Not ideal for a kick coverage unit, but welcomed nonetheless.

"He was a position player in high school. He reminded me of that when I looked surprised that he made a nice tackle," Kelly said, offering "He said ‘Coach, you know I played tight end?'

"I said, ‘Okay…'"

Kelly added the evolution of Brindza could allow him to serve the three-pronged role of kickoff specialist, place-kicker, and punter.

"We're hopeful; we recruited him because he has the ability to do all three

Notable Newcomers

Ishaq Williams and Troy Niklas have battled onto the field at opposite outside linebacker spots (Cat and Dog, respectively). Stephon Tuitt has joined Lynch as a two-deep defensive end and a rotational player on the defensive line in the nickel package. Ben Koyack is now the No. 2 tight end.

And running back George Atkinson scored the class's first touchdown Saturday, an 89-yard venture that marked the first regular season kick return score for the program since 2002 (Vontez Duff vs. Navy in the Meadowlands).

"I don't know that you ever want to play as many freshmen as we're playing," Kelly began, "But times are changing. College football is such that these kids are coming in physically more mature that these kids can come in and physically handle the rigors of playing major college football.

"I always thought it to be a great weakness within your program when you had to play true freshmen," he continued. "Not when they run as fast as George Atkinson or are as physical as Aaron Lynch. I think in the recruiting process, our eyes are wide open to (players) playing right away.

"If we continue to recruit like we did this past year, we're going to have more of those stories going forward."

Kelly added that he had advanced warning regarding his incoming troops from the only member of his leadership staff able to evaluate the group in the off-season, strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo.

"He said physically this was the most impressive group (during the pair's time together, I assume) – relative to their conditioning level – when they came here. Usually they come in a few weeks after the veterans and they're lost; they're so far behind," Kelly explained.

"This group was not. They were physically read to compete right away."

Six quarterback hurries; a sack; a forced fumble; a kick return touchdown; three touchback kick-offs, 15 total tackles (including Brindza's gem), and scrimmage time for five members of the class (three more including Atkinson on specialty units).

The 2011 haul has shown well over the season's opening quarter of contests.


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